BERKELEY – It’s not every day you get to meet your new best friend.
Olivia Covino, 5, did just that on Memorial Day, when her service dog was delivered to her. It was the first time she had ever met him. Up until then, she had only seen pictures of him online.
She was excited to meet him. When he came out of a police car, and met her in the street, she smiled at him, but just stood to the side. Once her father encouraged her that it was OK, she went up and pet him. The fact that his name is Oliver is just a happy accident.
The new dog, a one-year-old white Labrador, has been trained by Warren Retrievers to respond to Olivia’s diabetes even before she can. He is trained to sense when her blood sugar bottoms out, or if it peaks. He knows certain commands to tell her when it is about to happen. He will be able to go and bring her a juice box if he senses that she needs one. He can also call 911 if there is an emergency.
Olivia’s mother, Melissa, said her daughter gets her blood sugar checked 10-12 times a day. She has a device implanted in her body to monitor the blood sugar.
“The dog will be able to smell (when her blood sugar drops) 20 minutes before that machine that is inside her,” she said.
It’s especially important because Olivia, being 5, might not be able to articulate to adults that she is not feeling well.
Her father, John, said she’ll still have to get her blood sugar checked regularly, but this is an extra layer of protection that they need.
Cheri Campbell, one of Oliver’s trainers with Warren Retrievers, said that his training began at seven weeks old. He was first taught obedience and socialization before the more intensive training involved in being a diabetes alert dog.
Oliver was delivered by Olivia’s school’s police officer, escorted by a police and fire department entourage. There were a few dozen people who came out to witness the delivery.
There was a reason there were so many people there. The training of these dogs is expensive, and raising the money became a community event.
“We raised $25,000 in three weeks,” Melissa said.
Her kindergarten teacher at H&M Potter School, JoAnn Donachy, was one of the people who came out to see the dog delivery. She is amazed at the girl’s positive attitude in the face of her medical issues.
There was a story her class was reading for character education about a superhero who bounces back from whatever life deals you. The kids chimed in, “That’s Olivia!” because of her many trips to the nurse.
“She’s our little super hero,” Donachy said. “This dog is lucky to have her and she’s lucky to have this dog.”